Looking back through history, funeral rites and rituals have taught us a lot about grief, mourning and how funerals bring people together during the grieving process.
Scientific evidence has shown us that funeral rites and rituals have been practised for as long as humans have existed, from early humans burying their dead to the ancient Egyptians practising mummification.
The theory still stands that the rituals of a funeral can provide emotional and psychological support to the bereaved, and only with a funeral can we express our deepest thoughts and feelings about our loss.
When COVID changed our lives, it also changed the way we mourned. No longer could we gather with friends and family and share that loss and grief together, but instead many of us experienced grief alone, with communication through a phone or video call.
Whilst all kinds of events are back running without restrictions, including funerals, the years we spent without them had us pondering the question; is a funeral necessary to help with the grieving process?
Grief and the traditional funeral.
For a long time, traditional funeral homes have sold funerals as the best way to honour your loved one and the best way to help with grief.
The ritual of a traditional funeral is perfect for some people; choosing clothing for the deceased, a service with the coffin present (open or closed), the drive into a hearse to the burial site, watching the coffin be lowered into the ground and finishing the day with a wake.
This kind of service has been the only way to hold a funeral for the last 100 years, with little change, which is why many of us associate a funeral with grief. The time between the death and funeral can feel like serving a “waiting period” and we can’t work through the final stage of grief, acceptance, without the funeral. It allows us to say goodbye.
Whilst many people still want and need this ritual, that doesn’t mean everybody does.
Do open caskets give us closure?
Some psychologists have spoken on the importance of an open casket in the grieving process, and even expressed concern that this part of the process wasn’t available to many during COVID. There is the belief that seeing the deceased brings some closure to those mourning and helps them accept the finality of death..
However, viewing the body of a deceased loved one can bring the opposite effect for some people. If the deceased was ill in the lead up to their death, or has not been properly cared for post-mortem, this can distort their features and won’t resemble the memory you have in your head. Viewing your loved one this way could be how you remember them for months and years to come, rather than the vibrant person they were in life, which can be quite distressing.
Children viewing the deceased can also be particularly distressing and traumatic, especially if they don’t completely understand the finality of death until that moment.
Research tells a different story.
According to the study “How do Funeral Practices Impact Bereaved Relatives' Mental Health, Grief and Bereavement? A Mixed Methods Review with Implications for COVID-19” funerals do impact the way we grieve, but not in the way we might think.
Whilst there is some correlation between holding a funeral and our ability to grieve, what this study showed was that it didn’t matter how large or grand the funeral was, what was important for the grieving process was how meaningful the funeral was.
COVID left us isolated while grieving loved ones, which only intensified emotional stress and led to the conclusion that holding a proper funeral would help us through the grief. But what we were really seeking was that connection during our grief, and what we really needed was not the funeral itself, but the ability to be with friends and family and share those feelings together.
The study found that “It is not the number of attendees or even the type of funeral which determines how supportive it is, but rather how meaningful the occasion is, and how connected it helps mourners feel.”
Where does Bare fit in with all of this?
Well before COVID uprooted our lives, we could already see this trend of funerals in Australia changing; people were starting to reject the traditional funeral, as it didn’t quite work for them or their loved ones.
With the average Australian funeral costing $7,500, the idea of spending that much money to grieve properly or because it was the right thing to do, no longer felt right.
Fran Hall, chief executive at the UK industry advisory organisation Good Funeral Guide told The Guardian that families often felt shame in trying to keep funeral costs down, but that needed to change.
“We need to move away from that idea. People can create a meaningful service and still maintain the rituals without spending a fortune,” she said.
That’s where Bare came in; we entered the market offering a direct, unattended cremation which was simple and affordable. After the cremation, families could take days, weeks or even months to plan a memorial service, which was especially important during long lockdowns.
Receiving the ashes of your loved one can help close the “waiting period” we often feel after losing a loved one, and also help us reach the acceptance stage of grief without rushing and spending an exorbitant amount of money on a funeral.
At Bare we like to show our customers that there’s alternatives to the traditional funeral, if that’s what they want. Whether that’s an ashes-scattering ceremony at a picturesque location like the mountains, gathering at a loved one’s favourite restaurant for dinner or celebrating their life at home backyard BBQs, you can organise a non-traditional funeral that commemorates your loved one. This way, you can still have a meaningful gathering which will help you and your friends and family grieve, but is more aligned to yours and the deceased’s values.
Final thoughts on funerals helping the grieving process.
There is no doubt that holding a funeral offers social and psychological support to the bereaved, and allows the bereaved to convey love and respect for the deceased, as well as share their grief with their loved ones.
However, this doesn’t just mean you need a traditional funeral. You can organise any kind of funeral or memorial, because what matters is how meaningful the event is, how it honours the deceased’s life and who is there to share in both mourning and celebration.
If you’re interested in a cremation or memorial with Bare, head here or give us a call on 1800 071 176. We’re always here to help.